Tuttle sentenced to 42 months prison

Published 3:37 pm Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A person walks out of the U.S. District Courthouse in Minneapolis Tuesday before Linda Tuttle's sentencing. -- Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS — Calling it a “sufficient but not greater than necessary” decision, U.S. District Court Judge David S. Doty sentenced former Freeborn County Commissioner Linda Tuttle on Tuesday to serve 42 months in federal prison for stealing more than $1 million from her clients’ escrow accounts.

The 60-year-old Tuttle, who appeared with her lawyer Kevin O’Connor Green of Mankato, will voluntarily surrender herself on a date requested by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Though Doty recommended Tuttle spend her 3 1/2-year term at a women’s prison in Alderson, W.Va., the decision of where she will go will ultimately be determined by the bureau.

Doty also ordered Tuttle, whose full name is Linda K. Tuttle-Olson, to pay full restitution of $1.32 million to a reported 50 victims.

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Tuttle, through tears, apologized to the judge, the victims and her friends and family prior to the order and said she would serve the sentence that was given.

The sentence came after Tuttle pleaded guilty in April to one count of wire fraud, a felony, as part of a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney.

She admitted to taking funds from the escrow accounts at her business, Albert Lea Abstract Co., and diverting them for her own purposes, much of which reportedly went to pursue a gambling addiction at an Iowa casino.

However, prosecutors argued that Tuttle’s theft also went to support an extravagant lifestyle, including shopping and trips.

Green called the case a “disturbing, warped case,” and noted that his client has since undergone treatment for gambling addiction.

He repeatedly made reference to Tuttle being on a prescription drug for restless leg syndrome that causes a side effect of compulsive behaviors such as gambling.

“It is very apparent the onset of gambling for her was coincidal with the onset of this drug,” Green said, noting that his client’s fall from grace has been a “plummet.”

He asked the judge to take Tuttle’s medical records into consideration when imposing a sentence.

U.S. Attorney Nancy Brasel said while the government is not without sympathy for addiction, Tuttle’s case was not about addiction — it was about theft.

Brasel said Tuttle was in a position of trust at the time of the incidents — she was a county commissioner — and people thought their money was as safe with her as it would be in a bank. Brasel recommended a sentence of 63 to 78 months in prison.

“Her medication didn’t cause her theft,” she said, stating that Tuttle’s gambling stopped only when she got caught.

About a handful of Tuttle’s reported victims also issued pleas to the judge to rule on the higher end of the allowed prison term, including associates of the Freeborn County Humane Society, former resident George Dress and others who had saved up many years for projects and then ultimately lost their money.

“We had tears and tears and tears when it was announced the money was no longer there,” said Steve Leuthold, who had donated $150,000 to the Humane Society — money that was later taken by Tuttle.

Doty said he took into account the nature of Tuttle’s case and her circumstances and defended the ruling as being appropriate and reasonable.

While in prison, she will be required to complete an inmate financial responsibility program.

Following Tuttle’s release from prison, she will be on supervised release for three years with the U.S. Probation Office and must adhere to a hefty list of conditions.

Under her conditions, Tuttle must not commit any more crime, must abstain from controlled substances, not possess firearms, cooperate with requests for DNA samples and participate in a psychological counseling program.

Tuttle will be prohibited from opening new lines of credit without prior approval and from taking on any fiduciary responsibilities without prior approval.

Doty also ordered Tuttle not to participate in any gambling or go into casinos. This includes online gambling, charitable gambling and even the lottery.

“She’s OK with the sentence,” Green said. “It’s less than the government hoped for, but more than we wanted.”